The Impact of Sexual Abuse on Parenting

Survivors of sexual abuse and assault experience life-long consequences due to the trauma they endured. Many want to go on to build families of their own. However, the impact of childhood sexual abuse on parenting and the children of sexual abuse survivors can be significant. To keep your own trauma from passing on to the next generation, you must allow yourself to heal and surround yourself with supportive professionals you can trust.

The Long-Term Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The trauma of childhood sexual abuse follows survivors throughout their lives. One study estimates that 27% of 17-year-old females have experienced sexual assault or abuse during childhood. Those women and men who survive childhood sexual abuse are more likely to face challenges in their:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Sexual health
  • Interpersonal relationships

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may experience dissociation, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, and rage long into adulthood. If they do not receive support and healing, survivors may turn to inappropriate means to avoid the long-term emotional consequences of their trauma, including substance abuse or maladaptive coping mechanisms. They may even disconnect from feelings entirely, including the positive emotions that come from being a parent.

How Sexual Abuse Affects Parenting

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse can also face problems in parenting their own children. Mothers with a history of sexual abuse may experience longer, more intense postpartum depression. They may become too permissive, or engage in harsh discipline. Their parenting style may expect children to act more autonomously than their age allows, or they may be less accepting of their children. In addition, their own physical and mental health challenges may interfere with their ability to parent consistently.

Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse may also develop unhealthy attachment styles with their own children. Because trauma can affect the way sexual abuse survivors interact with others, this can impact the way they form parent-child relationships. A healthy attachment between parent and child means the parent is:

  • Nurturing
  • Tuned into their child’s needs
  • Encouraging their development
  • Emotional available
  • Physically healthy
  • Mentally alert

When a parent becomes distant, hostile, withdrawn, or focused on themselves, it can affect their child’s neurological development, emotional attachments, and social health throughout their lifetimes.

The best way for a childhood sexual abuse survivor to help their children is to carefully attend to their own healing. By working with a trauma-informed therapist and other professionals, survivors can recognize and address the symptoms of trauma before they affect their attachment to or parenting of their children.

Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse

Trauma — including domestic violence and sexual abuse — can become intergenerational. Sexual assault survivors from childhood can find themselves drawn to unhealthy and abusive relationships as adults. Childhood sexual abuse can make it hard for survivors to know who to trust. They may put their faith in an abusive partner, or may push away those who are trying to help them overcome their traumatic experiences. This puts them and their children at risk for revictimization from the same abusers, and from new violent or abusive partners.

In addition, because the perpetrators of sexual assault are often family members, another impact of childhood sexual abuse on parenting is that the children of survivors are at risk of becoming victims themselves when targeted by grandparents or other extended family members. Because their parents are themselves victims, they may not be able to stand up to repeat perpetrators and other family members who don’t know or believe the abuse occurred to protect their children. Survivors may need the help of skilled professionals to uncover the truth their families have hidden and protect their children from becoming the next generation of child abuse victims.

Using the Legal System to Protect Sex Abuse Victims and Their Children

California law includes many protections for sex abuse victims and their children. At ADZ Law, LLP, we advocate for survivors, helping them protect their families and exercise their rights in court. We understand how trauma can affect the parent-child relationship. We defend our clients against domestic violence and against abusive partners who would hold our clients’ histories against them in family court. Whether you need a safety plan and a temporary restraining order against a current abuser or defending against claims that you can’t effectively parent your children, we’re here to help. Our legal team is sympathetic to your experience, and we will work with you and your mental health providers, if appropriate, to respect your needs, assist in your recovery, and protect your children. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help you.